The ambivalent relationship between management studies and the natural sciences: A longitudinal rhetorical analysis
Ratle, O. (2011) The ambivalent relationship between management studies and the natural sciences: A longitudinal rhetorical analysis. In: 4th conference on Rhetoric and Narratives in Management Research, Barcelona, Spain, 24th - 26th March, 2011.
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Publisher's URL: http://www.esade.edu/research-webs/eng/rnmr11
For constructivist analysts of science, maps that define what constitutes legitimate science are variable, changeable and relatively inconsistent. Gieryn (1999) invites us to see the signifier ‘science’ as a cultural space that has no essential or universal qualities. Rather, he says, “its characteristics are selectively and inconsistently attributed as boundaries between ‘scientific’ space and other spaces are rhetorically constructed” (xii), and Gieryn posits that it is this flexibility that can explain the sustained authority of science. We can understand how science survives and flourishes when we see it as a cultural space that can encompass a relatively wide variety of practices and meanings. This calls for an analysis that does not try to affix once for all the content of the signifier ‘science’, but that recognises that, “What science becomes, the borders and territories it assumes, the landmarks that give it meaning depend upon exigencies of the moment—who is struggling for credibility, what stakes are at risk, in front of which audiences, at what institutional arena?” (x-xi). It is with that insight as a starting point that this paper endeavours to analyse the ambivalent relationship between management studies and the natural sciences. Analysing a series of texts exemplary of attempts to unify the field of management studies around a model of scientific activity drawn from the natural sciences, this paper shows how the nature of arguments put forward in metatheoretical controversies changes over time, with authors pursuing different rhetorical strategies and designing arguments built on new rhetorical commonplaces. Focusing on rhetorical topoi mobilised within those texts, the analysis presented shows the extent to which the representations of science implied within those texts vary a great deal, suggesting that arguments for the unification of the field have been adapted to local contingencies and exigencies of the rhetorical situation the texts were parts of. Commonalities between the maps of science rhetorically drawn also suggest topical areas that could be addressed by researchers who want to further the legitimacy of alternative conceptions of scientific activity.